How to Prevent Bad Dates

Everyone has a story about a “worst date ever.” Occasionally, you’ll hear a real doozy. But in most cases these supposed online dating horror stories tend to fall into two categories: The person doesn’t look or sound anything like what you had expected. Or they say or do something that falls outside of the realm of polite date behavior. Like making crude jokes about your server, wearing panda bear pajama bottoms or drinking an IPA with three straws, for example.

Unfortunately, going on the occasional disappointing date is part of the process of online dating. But if you’re continually experiencing crazy dates, then something is wrong.

Perhaps you can’t control the people you attract into your life. But you can make better choices on how you’re screening people and deciding who gets a spot on your calendar.

Here are some tips on how to improve your vetting skills:

1) Get to know your dates beforehand

You don’t have to endure weeks of emails and several rounds of phone calls, but some preliminary communication reveals important information about your match. I’m not talking about the basics you can learn from reading someone’s profile. Rather, you’ll want to know more subjective information: Does she have a sense of humor? Can he follow a conversation? Do they return texts or emails in a timely manner or call when they say they will?

If the communication is off-kilter, then you won’t be surprised if you don’t have an amazing connection when you finally meet.

2) Ask for more photos

This requires a subtle touch, since you don’t want to write “I don’t trust the photos in your profile. Please send current ones. And please hold your milk carton with the expiration date visible so I know they’re real.”

Entice your match to share more photos by sending some of yourself. You can write, “Hope you’re having a fun weekend. I’m having a blast at my sister’s barbecue. What are you up to?” Then attach a pic of you showing off your mad grilling skills or eating a giant drumstick. Send pics of yourself in front of sunsets or finishing house projects. By sharing your life in words and photos, you’ll inspire your matches to share theirs.

You don’t want to push too hard. But it doesn’t hurt to playfully prompt them a bit by writing “Walking in the woods sounds fun. Feel free to send a pic. I’d love to see your smile.”

Some people feel self-conscious taking photos so don’t worry too much if they don’t blow up your phone with selfies. But if the image exchange is one-sided, trust your gut that something is off.

3) Pick the right venue

The environment of the place you meet can influence whether you feel relaxed and comfortable. Find a convenient place that’s not crazy busy where there are plenty of seats, and it’s quiet enough that you can hear each other.

4) Steer the conversation

You’re in control of your side of the conversation. Ask good questions. Tell engaging stories. Even if your date is a dud, you can manage to enjoy yourself and learn something about him or her during your time together.

5) Give the person the benefit of doubt

There’s a good chance that someone will get stuck in traffic and arrive to your date really late. Or he will pick a café that closed three months earlier, and you have to scramble to find a new place. Or she will show up looking a little fuller-figured than she appeared in her profile photo.

You deal with it. You expect the best in each match. You control what you can control, and you figure out your deal breakers along the way. At worst case, you enjoy a beverage and a pleasant chat and move on.